28 February 2011


Perhaps you heard that Trent Reznor won an Oscar. I heard. I didn't see it though. You don't want to know why I didn't see Mr.  "feel you from the inside" Reznor win, but I'm going to tell you, because that way I can segue into a nice little post on one of the most effective things that teachers can do, and how easy it is to screw it up.

See, I was going to watch the Oscars. Not because I wanted to, but because I only get 12 channels of TV, and 3 of them are in languages I don't speak. Animation domination was demonstrating it's dominance by being in re-runs, so I was going to watch the Oscars. And then an English teacher showed up at my door.

He didn't show up un-invited. In fact, he had called before he came over, because he is a professional, after all. At this point you're rightfully confused. Let me hit you with some back-story:

This evening after I finished wasting as much time as possible watching NASCAR (they turned left for several hours) and college basketball (one team scored more than the other), I sat down and graded 17 DBQs. (these are document based questions that my AP History students completed last week) I stumbled across a sentence that used all the right words for the question, but didn't actually say anything.

So I emailed my colleague, who teaches many of those students in AP Language and Composition the sentence. He read it, had the kernel of an idea, and phoned me. He wanted to get together and work on how to fix their writing.

He came to my house, ate a sandwich, and we spent 90 minutes devising a lesson to fix their problems. It was great. This is the kind of thing that makes students more successful. In jargon, we call this collaboration. 

Many schools realize the value of collaboration. They often set up collaboration times (they like to use further jargon, calling them "Professional Learning Communities"). I don't know how successful these times are, because I've never yet worked at a building that could make them work effectively.

I think that most collaboration can be effective at the more informal times of the day. For example, lunch. Last year in my school, English and Social Studies shared a lunch. That's where English teacher and I started collaborating. But all of that can be undone by a single administrator who doesn't know what's going on. This year I eat lunch with Math teachers. They're nice people, but we don't collaborate. 

It's not that we don't want to collaborate; it's that our brains don't work in the same way. They're a little literal. We're much more conceptual. But the guy who worked out the lunch schedule didn't think about that. He just randomly chose which department had which lunch. That underscores one of the major issues in education and education reform. It's very easy for one seemingly trivial decision to have widespread impacts. Someday, if you're really good, I'll elaborate on that concept, and how it helped my school meet (jargon alert!) AYP last year. 

I don't have anything groundbreaking to say about collaboration, but I did want to get my thoughts out there. To reward you for reading this whole post, which was pretty much devoid of funny or angry sentences, I've found this picture of someone who needs some collaboration: Charlie Sheen.

Oh, yeah.

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